There’s a reason it’s referred to as an “elevator pitch” – it must be expressed in a couple of sentences and no more than 10 seconds. And that might even be a little generous. Psychologist Michael Formica reported that the average non-task-oriented attention span of a human being is about 8 seconds. What you must realize is the only thing your elevator pitch needs to accomplish is to cause enough interest on the part of the recipient to ask you any question that lets you expand a little further. But also be careful about abusing the permission you’ve been given to continue. Now you have 2-5 minutes to generate enough interest for a full-blown conversation, either then or separately scheduled.
I mention this because I see a lot of startups way over thinking the elevator pitch. Start with two sentences that answer the following questions:
What do you do?
My Capital Factory colleague, Mikey Trafton, teaches startups to simplify their answer to this question using the following format: “We help (customers) (solve problem) (for benefit).” Easy, right? Just fill in the placeholders with your info. Actually, it truly is pretty simple.
Why should someone care? (aka – so what?)
The answer to this might be a little different depending on whether you’re talking to a prospective customer, business partner or investor. But it must complement your first sentence describing what you do and it must be compelling enough to give the other person no choice but to ask a question. Make a bold claim. See my related article titled, The “So What” Rule.
Here is a made up example: “Shockwave Innovations helps educate, advise and fund tech startups so they can maximize their odds of success. In fact, one startup we helped during its founding days reached $80M in revenue and a NASDAQ IPO”.
Obviously, what I’m hoping for is a response like “Wow, what is your secret?” or “Very impressive, which company reached the IPO exit?” It really doesn’t matter what they ask because it gains me 2-5 minutes of additional valuable time. You also want to be careful about how bold your claim is and your ability to substantiate it during the follow-on discussion. For more on this, see my related article titled, The “Yeah, Right” Rule.
Use 8th Grade Vocabulary: No complicated jargon or trendy buzzwords
For those that are refining their elevator pitch for fundraising purposes, keep in mind that a great elevator pitch alone won’t get you funded because it’s just a door opener to a longer conversation. You’ve got to be fundable to get funded. However, I will also say that a crappy elevator pitch can severely impact your ability to get funded even if you are truly fundable. In other words, it can be a prerequisite to having the needed follow-on conversations with an investor prospect.
What about the one-line 3-5 word phrase that you use like a tagline? Check out this article by Chris Eleftheriadis who analyzed almost 2,000 listings on AngelList to identify the most common approaches to the one-line pitch, specifically those that reference other established companies. LinkedIn, Pinterest and Ebay were the most commonly referenced and the Top 10 referenced companies accounted for almost half of all one-line pitches that included a company reference. You can check out his full article here: http://www.visionmobile.com/blog/2013/06/the-art-of-one-line-pitching-a-study-of-angelist/.
Time for a Test Drive
Now it’s time to refine your elevator pitch and give it a test drive. Here’s an experiment to try. Say your elevator pitch to 20 people that don’t have much prior knowledge about your idea or your company. It doesn’t have to be complete strangers. Maybe your neighbors, relatives, former co-workers, etc. Tell them to react with the first question that comes to mind. Then ask them to tell you what they perceive your company does. Are you getting the reactions you want? If not, make changes to your elevator pitch until you do? Repeat this exercise for your tagline.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Your elevator pitch should be so engrained in your head that without even thinking you can immediately and intuitively answer the question “What does (your company name) do?”. Say it to yourself over and over and over again and find excuses to say it to others, even if they don’t ask. For example, when introducing yourself to someone, just say “Hi, I’m Gordon Daugherty from Shockwave Innovations. We help startups …” With this, you could just use the first sentence of your elevator pitch (the “what we do” part). You should also have your co-founders and first employees memorize your elevator pitch. At random times just ask them what your company does and see if they’ve got the pitch memorized.